While I think the third season of Glow lacks the earlier years’ clockwork pacing, it continues a track record of high-quality comedy-drama set against a low-brow backdrop. This year, the cast and crew of the Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling relocate to Las Vegas in order to pursue a new opportunity: a live stage show. The grind of a repetitive nightly performance takes its toll on the cast, physically and creatively, especially for Ruth Wilder (Alison Brie), whose commitment falters as career frustration gradually sets in. Meanwhile, an atmosphere of Vegas hotel-casino claustrophobia engenders emotional turmoil for other members of the group, including star/producer Debbie Eagan (Betty Gilpin), who’s struggling to juggle her Vegas career with motherhood in L.A., and producer Bash Howard (Chris Lowell), whose flashy, sham marriage to co-star Rhonda (Kate Nash) conceals a deeply troubled spirit. As the live show’s run extends and continues, the cast’s goals shift and their relationships are challenged.
The Vegas season is a nice change of pace for the series. Early on, the episodes feel a tad clunky and padded. But ultimately it strikes me this was a smart, deliberate move to let the show breathe more than the zippier early seasons — especially in light of its developing theme of creative struggle, as multiple characters come to grips with both the monotony of a steady but static entertainment job, and the joy of breaking from established patterns to spur personal growth. One of Glow’s greatest strengths, in fact, is its empathetic comprehension of the creative mindset, the drive that fuels the quixotic pursuit of art in the face of repeated frustration and failure. This is especially evident in Ruth’s unyielding pursuit of legitimate acting success, but also in the futile strivings of past-his-prime show director Sam Sylvia (Marc Maron) to overcome his own creative mediocrity.
But the show has another impressive attribute: its powerfully progressive stance on identity politics. This season makes increasingly substantive efforts to wrestle with individual struggles to identify and embrace personal identities in a world hellbent on defining and enforcing “normal” behavior. This theme resonates from Debbie’s increasing resentment of male expectations, to the efforts of both Bash and Arthie (Sunita Mani) to accept their unacknowledged homosexuality, to the indecisiveness of Cherry (Sydelle Noel) about her desire for children, to the inspiring journey of Sheila (Gayle Rankin) to move on from her peculiar wolf identity to a new place. Glow does many things well, from generating humor to developing touching connections between its characters, but it’s this aspect I find the most endearing: the fact that it is willing, in a political moment when our nation decidedly will not, to tell empowering stories about people embracing their vast and varied selves — societal expectations be damned.